My Thoughts On Nintendo’s 9/13 Direct

As the world watched with bated breath, Nintendo spent three quarters of an hour laying out the game lineups for the Switch and 3DS for the rest of the year and slightly into 2018. The biggest surprise was that there was no big surprise (at least from Nintendo; we’ll get to that), but overall I’d say the company did a solid job outlining the remainder of their 2017 plans. My thoughts for each individual game are as follows:

  • Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon: I nailed the trailer prediction, but Nintendo did me one better by introducing new Ultra Beasts rather than just showing Alolan forms of existing Pokémon. What they didn’t do, however, was flesh out the world enough to distinguish it from its predecessors Sun and Moon. Sure, Necrozma possesses Solgaleo and Lunala, but how has the Island Challenge changed? What are the roles of Team Skull and the Aether Foundation? Does Looker show up in the main campaign this time? I’m concerned because the older I get, the less time I have for gaming, and I’m really not up for playing a game that’s 90% unchanged from the original version. Nintendo needs to flesh out the new version of Alola, and do it quickly.
  • Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions: The above argument also applies here: I played through this several times on the Game Boy Advance, and have no interest in doing it again (especially since I bought Dream Team eight months ago and still haven’t gotten around to playing that). The Minion gameplay doesn’t seem all that interesting, and the Stamp Sheets feel like a bolted-on afterthought. Pass.
  • Kirby Battle Royale: This looks kind of interesting, but I get a strong Triforce Heroes vibe when I watch it. Even though it has online play and a single-player campaign, it doesn’t seem worth buying unless you have a group of friends nearby who can play.
  • Yo-Kai Watch 2: Psychic Specters: I like the fact that they’re treating this as an update for the original Y-K 2 versions, and the option to upload existing save data from those games is pretty cool. I’m not personally interested in it, but it’s a nice Pokémon alternative for those of you who are looking for that sort of thing, and letting existing players obtain the new content for free feels like the right approach.
  • Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy: I’ve never played a Layton game, but this looks like a solid entry in the series. Puzzle adventure fans might want to give this game a look.
  • Minecraft on 3DS: This is fricking genius! The 3DS is a cheaper handheld that is the perfect ‘gateway drug’ for younger gamers, and Minecraft is a hugely-popular franchise among this demographic. I’m kind of surprised this didn’t happen sooner.
  • Mario Party: The Top 100: Nintendo botched the messaging here, and later had to clarify that yes, this isn’t just a minigame collection and the game boards are returning. I think it’s a great idea, and while a lot of folks are clamoring for this game to be on the Switch, I think Nintendo will wait for Mario Party 11 before making that leap.
  • Metroid: Samus Returns: As expected, we got one last trailer before the game’s 9/15 release date. I was surprised, however, that the Metroid 3DS didn’t get a plug similar to the Poké Ball 2DS. Perhaps Nintendo feared the higher New 3DS price tag would scare people away?
  • The Altus RPGs: They all kind of blended together for me (which might have been why they were all crunched into a single headline), but they further solidify the 3DS as the ultimate RPG platform.
  • Apollo Justice/Fire Emblem Warriors: Again, there’s nothing much to see here. I’m really not sure the Warriors series is well-suited to the 3DS, but it’s at least an opportunity for 3DS-only households to try out some solid games.
  • The Orange 2DS: It’s nice to know we’re getting more 2DS variety here in the States. It’s apparent that Nintendo is not ready to give up on their older handheld (a decision I agree with 100%), and that the console remains a core pillar of their business strategy.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2: The deep dive into this title caught me a bit off guard, but we now know what this game is all about (and when it’s being released!). While some have said that Nintendo spent too long focusing on this game, I disagree: Nintendo knows this is a B/C tier franchise that very few people would tune in for specifically, so they had to make a hard sell here while it had the gaming world’s full attention. Honestly, I think they did a nice job.
  • Splatoon 2: The return of Kelp Dome was a surprise (it seemed like Nintendo had been shying away from its larger maps), but it’s probably been changed enough to make it a Reef/Art Academy experience. Also, holy cow that new Brella is huge.
  • Fire Emblem Warriors (Switch): To be honest, I forgot this series existed until I saw the 3DS trailer. I’m sure the new character will make FE fans happy, but I just don’t care about this game enough to be excited.
  • Snipperclips Plus: I’m glad to see this series is getting more love, as it was a well-received launch title that was too quickly overshadowed by first-party releases. It’s definitely worth checking out.
  • Morphemes Law: …I have no words for this one. There’s a kinda-sorta Splatoon vibe here, but the growth/shrinking mechanics just seem bizarre and unnatural. I’m really not feeling this one.
  • Rocket League: I completely forgot about this title too, but it’s still pretty popular and a big get for the Switch. The Metroid car looks like the best of the Nintendo bunch.
  • Arena of Valor: I’m getting major Dota vibes from this title, but will a Switch-based MOBA really fly? I see this as a high-risk/high-reward game for Nintendo, and while I’m interested in seeing how people respond, I’m not really interested in it myself.
  • Skyrim: Hey, we finally got a release date! Beyond that, though, there was nothing new to see here.
  • Doom/Wolfenstein: Whoa, I did not see this coming. I’m not a fan of either series, but the fact that they’re here speaks volumes about the potential of third-party Switch support.
  • Flip Wars: Meh. Moving on.
  • Nintendo Arcade Titles: Okay, now I’m starting to think that every game ever released is going to get a Switch port. Do we have a release date for Monkey Island on Switch yet?
  • Zelda Amiibos: These are nice and all, but where are the details on Breath of the Wild DLC Pack 2? I’m starting to think Nintendo isn’t sure what to include in this thing…
  • Sports Games: YESSSSSS. NBA 2K18 and FIFA 18 look great (and the former also has all of the content that other platforms do). WWE 2K18 is also coming (not that I care), and…oh yeah, add Pokkén Tournament DX to the list of games I forgot about. I’m kind of sad that I have to wait an extra month to get a physical release of NBA 2K18, but I’m definitely getting it. I want to signal that sports games have a home on Nintendo hardware, in hopes of getting Madden and NHL 19 next year (and maybe even a baseball title on the level of The Show too).
  • Octopath Traveler: I’m afraid that this game’s going to take some undeserved heat because it ended up being the “big surprise” instead of Animal Crossing, Super Smash Bros., etc. As an RPG, it’s in the same popularity conundrum as Xenoblade Chronicles 2, so it was likely spotlighted for the same reason. Personally, I like what I’m seeing: It’s got gorgeous visuals, an intriguing story concept, and some interesting mechanics that make the game feel a bit more open-world. The question is, do enough people care?
  • ARMS: Lola Pop is cool, and the control customizing is a godsend for a lot of players. This still feels like a dead game walking to me, though, thanks to Splatoon 2 stealing all of its thunder.
  • Dragon Quest Builders: I watched a Gamexplain livestream of this game on PS4 long ago, and absolutely loved it. It’s basically Minecraft with better visuals and a better story.
  • Kirby Star Allies: They didn’t show off anything new here, but what they did show off looked fun (I’m all for cool ability combinations). That shot of Whispy Woods looking bruised and battered was really disturbing, though.
  • The Rest of the Headlines: I’m surprised Lost Sphear and Sonic Forces got relegated to a small ending slot, but at least we have firm release dates for both. Resident Evil, L.A. Noire…again, everything seems to be coming to the Switch!
  • Super Mario Odyssey: The presentation was excellent. Every time they show us something new, the game gets better. Special photo modes? Cool new costumes? More Power Moons than you’d ever expect? I am really excited for this one. On the other hand, however, I was sold on this game months ago, so Nintendo didn’t really have to show me all this. I mean, I want to to discover at least a little bit of the game on my own! (Also, the image of a shirtless Mario was more jarring than I expected.) Still, this game is a lock for GOAT consideration right out of the gate (wait, didn’t we just say that about Zelda: Breath of the Wild?)

However, while Nintendo covered a lot of games is its presentation, there were still some surprising omissions:

  • Breath of the Wild DLC Pack 2: I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s worth noting that we’re only a few months away from the holiday season and still know next to nothing about what’s coming.
  • Paid Online Services: I figured we’d either get some service details or a delay announcement, but…nothing? I get the feeling that not even Nintendo has any idea what this service should be, and I’m leaning towards them just extending the free trail period into 2018 (and frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me if they scrapped the idea altogether…)
  • Yoshi: With Kirby getting an increased focus thanks to his 25th anniversary, something had to give, and it looks like it was Yoshi. It’s not a marquee franchise, however, so pushing this back to late spring or early summer 2018 won’t break too many hearts.
  • Animal Crossing/Super Smash Bros./Pokémon/etc.: Despite the fact that the presentation ended on a strong Super Mario Odyssey trailer, the lack of a surprise first-party announcement made the ending feel pretty abrupt. I know fans of these franchises woke up a bit sad this morning, but honestly, the Switch’s existing game lineup feels so stacked right now that Nintendo can afford to keep its tent pole franchises in its quiver for now, and take their time to deliver a superior product in the future. I still think that Smash Bros. is a holiday ’18 title, and that Animal Crossing, Pokémon Switch, and Metroid Prime 4 are on the way in 2019. (Star Fox for 2020?)

Again, this was a solid Direct that did exactly what it needed to do. The main takeaways were that the 3DS still has a lot of life left in it, and that the Switch is a hot platform that everyone and their mother wants to develop games for. Coming off the lean years of the Wii U, these are conclusions I will happily accept.

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What Can We Expect From Tomorrow’s Nintendo Direct?

Image From Nintendo Enthusiast

Nintendo has announced a massive 45-minute Direct presentation for tommorow at 3 PM PST/6 PM EST time, but has only confirmed that Super Mario Odyssey will be a part of the presentation, sending the Internet into a frenzy of hype and speculation. With a presentation this large, Nintendo is likely going to lay out its entire plan for the rest of the year (and perhaps some of 2018 as well), but there’s certainly enough room for a big surprise announcement or two, and fans are salivating over the possibility of seeing Animal Crossing or Super Smash Bros. or <insert your preferred neglected Nintendo franchise here> appearing on the Switch.

Predictions can be a fool’s game sometimes, but I’m admittedly one of the biggest fools around, and there’s nothing wrong with dreaming a little about what might appear during tomorrow’s show. Let’s jump on board the hype train!

What we will see: With 45 minutes to burn, I imagine that everything we already know about will get a moment in the spotlight. That includes:

  • Super Mario Odyssey (more kingdoms)
  • Metroid: Samus Returns (one last blowout trailer before the release, plus a good look at the new Metroid-themed 3DS)
  • Mario + Luigi: Bowser’s Minions (ditto Metroid, with an emphasis on the Bowser’s Minions gameplay since that’s the only new part)
  • Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon (I see a few new Pokémon forms, plus an epic trailer involving Necrozma’s fusing with Solgaleo and Lunala)
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (trailer + a firm release date)
  • The SNES Classic
  • The NES Classic (it’s coming back next year!)
  • The yet-to-be-named 3DS Kirby title (this will be fully fleshed out, right down to the release date)
  • Zelda: Breath of the Wild DLC Pack 2 (we’ll get a full account of what this actually includes)
  • ARMS v3.0 (a focus on Lola Pop gameplay)
  • Splatoon 2 additions (I’m sure we’ll see something, but I have no idea what that will be. New weapons? New stages? New game modes? Playable Octolings?)
  • Nintendo’s paid online services (they’ll either actually give us some details or extend the free trial into 2018)
  • Kirby and Yoshi Switch titles (trailers that build off of the gameplay shown at E3 and show a bit more of the story)

What we probably will see: Nintendo will want to showcase some of its third-party partners, so we could get some gameplay clips from:

  • NBA 2K18
  • L.A. Noire
  • Skyrim (we should finally get a release date for this)
  • Yo-Kai Watch 2: Psychic Specters
  • Culdcept Revolt
  • Sonic Forces
  • Monopoly
  • Sine Mora Ex
  • Battle Chasers: Nightwar
  • Payday 2

The Surprises: There’s more than enough content above to fill the whole presentation, but there’s no way Nintendo’s putting this out without a surprise reveal at the end. What about…

  • Animal Crossing? I doubt it. While Nintendo had ruled out talking about mobile games during this Direct, today’s Apple event could have potentially brought up some Nintendo IPs just as the company did with Super Mario Run. An announcement about the Animal Crossing mobile game at Apple’s event would have foreshadowed a Switch game announcement at the Direct, but I haven’t seen any reports of AC coming up at the Apple event, so I’m leaning towards no new AC information here.
  • Super Smash Bros.? Honestly, I don’t feel this one either. I still see Super Smash Bros. as an anchor for the 2018 holiday season, and with Kirby and Yoshi already announced as (probable) early 2018 releases, I think we won’t see SSB until next year’s E3.
  • Pikmin 4? Hey! Pikmin disappeared from the scene pretty quickly, so I don’t think this series has the juice to warrant a big surprise reveal. I’m leaning towards a no here.
  • Metroid Prime 4? The game may be alluded too, but I don’t think we’ll learn anything knew about it here. We got nothing but a logo at E3, so that suggests this thing is still really early in development.
  • Pokémon on the Switch? This one’s still early in development as well…but I have a different feeling about it. If I had to go bold, this is where I would do it: I would show nothing more than a pair of Pokémon (Pikachu and something else that’s popular) standing in a grassy field similar to that fanmade Unreal engine demo we saw a while ago. A few face zoom-ins, some pyrotechnics, they attack, a placeholder logo pops up for a few seconds, and the presentation moves on. If a Metroid logo set the Internet on fire, a Switch Pokémon demo would reduce the darn thing to ashes. My only concern is that giving people a taste of what’s likely to be a 2019 title might come back to bite Nintendo before its over.

So those are my thoughts on what we’ll see during Nintendo’s upcoming Direct. I foresee a rapid-fire setup similar to the Direct we got an April, but I wouldn’t complain about a few deep dives as well. Let’s see just how wrong I am tomorrow!

Has Nintendo Finally Turned a Corner On Third-Party Support?

Image from Nintendo Enthusiast

Roughly four months ago, I declared that the Nintendo Switch was destined to be stuck in third-party purgatory, and that it’s best hope was to be a first step towards getting back into the good graces of non-Nintendo developers in the future. It seems, however, that the future may have arrived more quickly than I expected.

While much of the Nintendo universe is focused on the 3DS’s new old 2D Metroid and prepping for the Super Mario Odyssey ramp-up, a few interesting news tidbits slipped in slightly under the radar:

Combine these headlines with the success Ubisoft is seeing with its crossover collaboration Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and it’s fair to wonder: Has Nintendo finally created a platform that other companies really want to be on?

Consider the following:

  • Switch sales got off to a strong start, and six months later the numbers keep getting stronger. The latest absurd numbers: In Japan, “Nintendo has been selling 10 to 14 times the number of Switch consoles that Sony is selling of PS4s.” (emphasis added) Future sales projections are rising, and seem to have reached the point where developers risk leaving some serious money on the table if they don’t support the console.
  • Nintendo has been dinged in the past for being hard for third-party studios to develop for, but the company made a significant effort to fix this problem on the Switch (see: its decision to support Unreal Engine 4). I declared that Nintendo’s historic hostility to third-party developers would haunt them in the short term, but Nintendo’s outreach efforts seem to have mitigated this issue, as Rockstar joins an already-long list of third-party supporters.

So today, Nintendo has a more popular console and a lower barrier of entry than it’s had in quite some time. Why wouldn’t non-Nintendo developers want a piece of this action?

Of course, the concerns I raised back in April haven’t really gone anywhere:

  • Hardware limitations appear to be forcing NBA 2K18 to run at 30 frames per second instead of the standard 60.
  • The use of cartridges has led some developers to impose a “Switch Tax,” and Rockstar is no exception (L.A. Noire physical copies for the Switch will be $10 more expensive than for other consoles).
  • Much like Skyrim, L.A. Noire is a last-gen game that was originally released in 2011. (Also keep in mind that it’s L.A. Noire that’s coming over, and not Grand Theft Auto.)
  • 2K and Rockstar are independent publishers, and franchises associated with other hardware makers (Uncharted, Horizon Zero Dawn) aren’t any closer to appearing on the Switch.

Still, the outlook for third-party games on the Switch is much rosier than it was in April. The hardware limitations can be worked around (Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle only runs at 30fps, and I haven’t noticed or cared), and past history can be countered by the promise of a bright future. The last remaining question is whether or not these games will sell well enough to justify their costs and entice other companies to get in on the fun. If L.A. NoireNBA 2K18, and the rest of the early pioneers succeed, the Switch might find its way out of third-party purgatory after all.

So Where Does The Rabbids Franchise Go From Here?

Could this guy really be the next Smash Bros. combatant? (Image from Polygon)

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is more than just a enjoyable turn-based combat game or a successful non-Nintendo Mario game. It also serves as a revitalization of Ubisoft’s Rabbids, a game that takes what were (are mostly still are) some of the least liked characters in gaming, gives them depth and personality, and makes them interesting and even likeable! Nobody was clamoring for a new Rabbids game a month ago, but Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle might just interest a few gamers in seeing more from this franchise.

Of course, the Rabbids have been starring in their own games for over a decade, and…well, like I said, nobody was clamoring for a new Rabbids game. If Ubisoft wants to wring some more life out of their bwah-loving protagonists, they’re going to need to find a way to re-capture the feel of M+R Kingdom Battle without having the Mario franchise as an anchor.

So what can Ubisoft learn to make their next Rabbids game a success? Here are my suggestions based on what I’ve seen from M+R Kingdom Battle:

  • Make playable Rabbid characters more unique and less ‘bwahhh.’ From Rabbid Mario’s smug attitude to Rabbid Peach’s selfie shenanigans, it’s the personalities of the characters that make them interesting. Rabbids have been dressing up in silly costumes for a while, but until now their attitude never seemed to involve past screaming “BWAHHHH!”and behaving as insanely as possible. This needs to change: If Rabbids are going to be the main focus of a game, the PCs need strong, identifiable characteristics that players can connect with and appreciate (and not be annoyed by).
  • Double-down on the adventure/RPG genre. The Rabbid console releases have been mostly minigame collections in recent history, and while there have been stabs at other genres (Rabbids Heroes, anyone?), nothing seemed to catch the public’s imagination until Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. This suggests that as long as the characters as interesting (per my previous point), gamers would be interested in learning more about the Rabbids and their world. Adventure games and especially RPGs would be perfect for this because they would let the developers dive deeper into the lore of the series (filled with all the requisite insanity, of course). What sort of communities would Rabbids build? How would they govern themselves? If you can convince people that these questions are worth answering, then longer, deeper genres would be perfect for doing so.
  • Include a serious counterpoint to the Rabbids’ usual antics. The classic Rabbid silliness is still present in Kingdom Battle, the comedic effect is amplified by Beep-0, whose serves as the straight man by offering serious-sounding commentary on whatever bizarre situation the Rabbids get into. As it turns out, Ubisoft may already have the perfect person for this role: Rayman, the protagonist who used to headline these games until the Rabbids eclipsed him (and whose star has faded despite the release of some critically-acclaimed titles). He could fill the role of dispassionate observer (even as the lead hero!), shaking his head along with the player as he experiences the Rabbids’ classic insanity.
  • Explore more crossover opportunities. If Ubisoft is serious about re-establishing the Rabbids as a tentpole franchise, they should explore more crossover possibilities just as they did with Nintendo. In fact, M+R Kingdom Battle may not be the only Nintendo-based opportunity: What if Rabbid Peach or Rabbid Luigi showed up in Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros.? Heck, would Rabbids make sense in a Sonic or Crash Bandicoot game? At the very least, Ubisoft could increase the Rabbids’ brand awareness by getting the characters in front of different and larger audiences, and perhaps even increase peoples’ interest in the characters (again, provided they are presented properly).

You can never have too many strong IPs in your arsenal, and Ubisoft should consider Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle a first step towards rebuilding the respectability of its Rabbid characters. If they can take the things that made this game great and apply them to future titles, in a few years the world’s gut reaction to these insane rabbits will be excitement instead of disgust.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle: Is It Worth Buying?

Image From Go Nintendo

You know, I’m starting to think Mario could pull off a partnership with any character. What’s next, a crossover with Q*bert? Bubsy? Conker the Squirrel?

The short answer to our question is that despite all the potential red flags (it’s not made by Nintendo? The Rabbids are involved? Mario uses guns?), Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is absolutely worth buying. The reason for this, however, has nothing to do with the characters involved, and everything to do with the excellent combat system that makes up the game’s foundation. Set aside Mario and the Rabbids for a moment: If you like turn-based strategy games (heck, even if you don’t), you will really enjoy this game.

The game mostly consists of battles that pit your party of three against some assortment of baddies on a large 3D map with varying geography (and plenty of cover). During your turn, every character you control can:

  • Attack (using either a primary or secondary weapon)
  • Move (which could involve dashing through enemies to damage them or Team Jumping using a nearby teammate)
  • Use a Special Ability (which vary by character)

While these are pretty standard options for turn-based strategy games, the fact that you can perform all of them in a single turn is not, and furthermore, you can perform them in any order with any teammate. This means that you can interleave the move, attacks, and abilities of each character to build complex attack sequences that devastate your opponents. (Over time, you’ll also unlock different abilities for your characters, amplifying their potential for mayhem.) It’s satisfying, it’s addicting, and above all it’s darn good fun.

Of course, your opponents can also do the same thing to you, offering a level of challenge not seen in many Mario games. Make a mistake, and you will quickly get your head handed to you by the CPU. However, Game Overs are not the state-wiping nightmares that they are in Sonic Mania, and you are simply allowed to restart the battle (perhaps adjusting your team this time to better suit your strategy).

It’s not a perfect game, of course. For example, it’s a good thing this game is not a platformer, because the controls are a bit loose (my characters are forever getting hung up on obstacles), and the camera is positioned at an odd angle that limits your view considerably (this is especially irritating when an enemy’s range exceeds the camera’s view and you can’t tell exactly how far they can see/shoot). The game bottoms out with its blue-coin puzzles, which pit you more against the game’s flaws (camera is fixed at a terrible angle, obstacles that seem to magnetically attract your party thanks to the loose controls, and a tight timer that demands precision the game just doesn’t give you) than the actual puzzle. Despite the gorgeous visuals, the worlds themselves are linear and constrained, keeping exploration to a minimum. These are minor gripes, however, and easy to forgive in the face of such an excellent battle system.

But what about the Rabbids? I hear you ask. Well…what about them? I’d never played a Rabbids game up to this point, so I didn’t have much of an opinion on them, but the Mario and Rabbid universes seem to mesh well, and the Rabbids add just the right amount of personality to the game without being annoying. (In fact, they actually highlight how bland and boring Mario is as a character. Luigi’s interactions with them, however, are priceless.) Some of the humor is a bit childish (poop jokes, underwear jokes, etc.), but there are also some genuinely funny moments as well (for example, Rabbid Peach’s selfie antics, and the fact that not even the Rabbids give Luigi any respect). Besides, if you don’t like the Rabbids, you can take solace in the fact that 95% of them are enemies you get to smite.

In short, don’t think of this as a Mario or a Rabbids game—think of it as a unique and complex turn-based strategy game that just happens to use rabbits and plumbers as PCs. If that sort of game appeals to you, then taking a flyer on Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is well worth it.

Does Nintendo Have A Hardware Problem?

Image From Nintendo Life

You know, I’m beginning to wonder why people call for Nintendo to get out of the hardware business. Based on the company’s last few products, it seems like they’re barely in the hardware business to begin with!

You all know the story behind the NES Mini by now, and the Nintendo Switch still seems to be in short supply nearly six months after its release. Even the 3DS had a shortage crop up during the holiday season. Now horror stories are trickling in about trying to order an SNES Mini, with preorders coming online at absurd hours and companies packaging the devices into overpriced bundles to take advantage of the scarcity (to say nothing of the usual scalper shenanigans). It seems that no matter what Nintendo does, it never has enough of people want.

This pattern begs the obvious question: Why? After so many recent shortfalls, you would think that the Big N had learned its lesson by now. It’s got some of the greatest, most famous IPs in the world, and almost exclusively offers access to them via its own hardware…so why can’t they produce enough supply to meet demand?

On the surface, the root of the problem seems to be that Nintendo has been too conservative in its sales projections: For example, NOA President Reggie Fils-Aimé said that the company “didn’t anticipate how incredible the response would be” to the NES Mini, and Nintendo has already had to bump up its Switch hardware orders once since the console launched. The company still appears to be haunted by the Wii U’s poor sales, and wants to keep expectations low to make sure it sells everything it makes.

To be honest, however, this feels like a cop-out argument to me, a PR-ready excuse designed to cover up potential deeper supply chain issues. While Nintendo’s line is that it didn’t want to make more consoles, I wonder if the real issue is that they can’t.

A quick glance at a (perhaps outdated?) list of Switch hardware suppliers brings up one notable name: Foxconn Technology, a company best known for two things: Poor working conditions, and making iPhones for Apple. The Wall Street Journal recently published an intriguing article claiming that Nintendo’s efforts at ramping up production are being hamstrung by the sway Apple holds with the manufacturer:

“Nintendo is experiencing Switch shortages due to low supply of critical components, like memory chips that store data and liquid-crystal displays, which Apple is gobbling up for its own products…the Journal‘s sources suggest that Apple, which makes some of the world’s most popular products, has far more power in the supply chain, thanks to the massive number of units it orders from suppliers. Apple’s orders, therefore, are being fulfilled before others, leaving Nintendo to wait in line.”  Fortune, 5/31/17

While this report is Switch-specific, there have also been reports that the iPhone 8 is creating a shortage of common components such as DRAM and NAND chips, which would likely impact other Nintendo products like the SNES Mini.

So if Nintendo is getting squeezed on the hardware manufacturing side, what can they do respond? Try to up its priority by “spending more on parts?” Find another manufacturer or three to make its consoles? Reduce the amount of tech in their hardware? (For example, do the Joy-Cons really need all their bells and whistles?) There are several possible options, but I’m pessimistic about Nintendo exploring them. More than likely, the company will continue muddling along in its current state, hoping that it’s enough to survive the upcoming demand rush of Super Mario Odyssey and the holiday season.

In other words, don’t expect things to change anytime soon. Whenever the Game Boy Mini or N64 Mini or 3DS successor comes out, we’re probably going to go through the same old worn-out routine. The hardware will be impossible to find, people will rage, Nintendo will apologize, and the company’s reputation will be dragged back through the mud. It doesn’t have to be this way, but it likely will be.

It’s a good thing Nintendo has started producing games for smartphones, because at least you can buy one of those…

How To Do Repetitive Gameplay Right

Most every game gets repetitive at some point, whether it’s because you’re stuck at an obstacle or boss fight or because the gameplay itself is short and standard (for example, there isn’t a lot you can do in a football game except, you know, play football). The key is what the game does in response to this issue, as handling repetition well can be the difference between a good game and a bad one.

Consider the latest two games I’ve highlighted, Miitopia and Sonic Mania. Despite being completely different genres, both games lean on linear gameplay through worlds with a number of branching paths, with any number of bonuses waiting for ambitious explorers. This means that completionists and OCD players like myself are going to have to go back through each level a number of times to fully ‘defeat’ it. So why did I enjoy going back through Miitopia levels but come to detest doing the same in Sonic Mania? Essentially, it was because Miitopia always did the right thing when it came to repetitive gameplay, whereas Sonic Mania never did.

So how do you handle repetition in games? Here are a few takeaways from my experience:

  • Save the player’s progress early and often. Break your levels down into small segments (conceptually if not literally), and record the player’s progress after each one. That way, if the player runs into a challenge that takes them a few tries to overcome, they can a) focus squarely on that challenge instead of slogging through a bunch of stuff they’ve already done, and b) not have to re-do said challenge if they fail further down the line.

Upon falling in battle, both Miitopia and Sonic Mania send the player back to the beginning of the stage they were playing. The difference is that Miitopia‘s stages are much smaller than Sonic Mania‘s, and boss fights are separated into their own stages, so returning to the point of the player’s prior failure is quick and easy. Sonic Mania, on the other hand, ships players all the way back to the beginning of the zone they were playing when they receive a Game Over, forcing them to play through up to two (pretty long) acts to get back to where they perished.

  • Give the player plenty of chances to succeedSonic Mania actually has a nice checkpoint system built in, which works great when you have a life to give. The game is surprisingly stingy with its lives, however, and it doesn’t take long to burn through them all on a tough boss fight and suffer the indignity of a Game Over. Say what you want about lives being so plentiful as to be meaningless in the Mario series, but the games give players more than enough chances to overcome the challenges they face. (In fact, Super Mario Maker‘s infinite-retry system is the only thing that makes beating kaizo and other super-hard levels possible.) Miitopia copies the Mario Maker technique and lets you try your hand at a level as many times as you want.
  • Make the rewards for exploring both worthwhile and permanent. In Miitopia (and most RPGs, for that matter), every individual battle you play through gets you money and experience, and thus exploring ultimately makes your party stronger. In Sonic Mania, exploring a different path might net you… More rings? Maybe a shield or an extra life? Not only are these rewards not terribly enticing, but some are also ephemeral and will disappear at the end of the stage. It just feels like exploration in Sonic Mania is just for the sake of exploration, and doesn’t actually net you much in the end.
  • When all else fails, make sure no two gameplay sessions are the same. In truth, some of the most fundamentally repetitive games out there (MaddenMario KartOverwatch) are also some of the most popular and enjoyable. The reason is that games like this introduce just enough randomness (different players, different maps, etc.) to ensure that every match is its own unique entity. Miitopia accomplishes this mostly through its potentially-infinite cast of characters, as well as the different roles they can take on. Sonic Mania has nothing like this, although in all fairness single-player platformers are at a huge disadvantage in this category.

In the end, it’s all about finding ways for the player to enjoy your game, even in the face of repetition. When a game can pull it off, it allows for near-endless replayability. When a game doesn’t, it had better hope that a one-and-done playthrough is worth the cost.